Wednesday, September 30, 2009

all the words in my head tonight, apparently

I smoked my last cigarette Sunday, sitting on the back steps of my apartment building during the one sunny morning we've had in this (so far) grey autumn. A friend asked me the night before if I were nervous about running out, and I won't deny there was a slight pang as I neared the end of the pack but really I felt good about it. I was smiling when the last butt went over the railing, and it's been two days and I haven't even wanted one too badly. So hurrah.

This month is a series of endings and beginnings, really. Last cigarettes and meetings with the many friends who are leaving for warmer climes; first rehearsals, concerts, and cold days. Most of it's neither good or bad, really. Every story can be told in an infinite number of ways, and the way I tell them to myself changes from moment to moment. I can be simultaneously happy for loved ones heading out for San Francisco and Texas and sad that I won't be seeing them as regularly, happy to stop smoking while still being nostalgic about my back steps in the sunlight.

I think the reason I can't pull this together in a nice little package is that life isn't like that right now. It's messy. There are roasted chickpeas and Beethoven symphonies and glitter, long days and longer nights and bone-deep exhaustion and fierce joy, and all of these things are wonderful and beautiful but so divergent that I sometimes feel like my life has exploded like some sort of celestial body and all the different parts of myself are getting farther and farther apart and hence harder to connect. That sounds a little uncomfortable, and sometimes it is, but I'm trying to be all Pollyanna about it and focus on the positive: I'd far rather be scattered and happy than focused and miserable.

As I get older, I'm feeling more pressure to figure out what exactly it is that I'd like to do. It seems that society would like there to be one singular thing that becomes my career, the thing I do well enough to get paid for that hopefully doesn't make me want to scream and curl into a ball on the floor. This hypothetical career should be upstanding, something my mother can talk about without wincing or making excuses for, and it should pay enough that I can someday become a solvent old person who doesn't have to eat cat food to survive. None of this is stated outright, but I think that's the gist of what my parents--who I am totally not snarking at: their tolerance of my lack of path is actually rather outstanding--and various other concerned people are getting at when they gently ask me what I'm doing next. I have, I like to point out as I sweep the floor at work, two college degrees, so what happens now?

The problems with all of this are many. My two degrees are a) in a field that I no longer want to pursue professionally, and b) in a field that is practically useless when you try to apply it towards any other sort of career path. A master's in music performance won't even get you a job at Whole Foods, and I know because I tried. (Actually, it won't even get you an interview. It feels really awesome to finish your sixth year of college and then get rejected by a grocery store.) And beyond the whole "college degree" issue, there's the fact that, really, I'm much happier doing several things part of the time than one thing all of the time. My metaphorical closet is very full of hats at this point, so why wouldn't I want to put as many of them as possible to use? Sure, it may be tiring, but it makes for some really great stories. But still, sometimes I wonder.

When I was walking through the Minneapolis airport six weeks ago on my way home from Alaska, jet lagged and probably still a little drunk from my stint at the Anchorage Chili's the night before (I mean, what else could I do before a hellish overnight trip except get drunk by myself at a horrible chain restaurant at the airport? Christ.), I had what I might have considered an epiphany had I been solidly in my right mind instead of jetlagged and mentally devastated. I was walking around, searching desperately for a bagel--the only craving I had at that early hour--when I looked out a window at the sunrise and a voice inside my head, clear as a bell, said "Go to grad school again." Because I was, frankly, kind of fucked up, I laughed and said to the voice "Oh yeah? For what? Do tell." But I think that sums it up. Something needs to happen. Is it grad school? Is it not? Is school a total pack of bullshit and should I dedicate my life to reading and liminal ill-paying jobs? So many paths, and what do I choose? Absolutely no clue.

I don't know where I'm heading with all this, either in life or in this too-long and unfocused post. What is this about, anyway? Smoking? Being busy? Life goals? Odd interior voices? I don't know. But it's time for my next rehearsal, so here I go again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

no gerbil

I'll admit I initially liked this poem for the title, but actually I kind of like the whole thing.

Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil

Sharon Olds

In the strange quiet, I realize
there's no on else in the house. No bucktooth
mouth pulls at stainless-steel teat, no
hairy mammal runs on a treadmill--
Charlie is dead, the last of our children's half-children.
When our daughter found him lying in the shavings, trans-
mogrified backwards from a living body
into a bolt of rodent bread
she turned her back on early motherhood
and went on single, with nothing. Crackers,
Fluffy, Pretzel, Biscuit, Charlie,
buried on the old farm we bought
where she could know nature. Well, now she knows it
and it sucks. Creatures she loved, mobile and
needy, have gone down stiff and indifferent,
she will not adopt again though she cannot
have children yet, her body like a blueprint
of the understructure for a woman's body,
so now everything stops for a while,
now I must wait many years
to hear in this house again the faint
powerful calls of a young animal.

Monday, September 21, 2009

a beginning, a middle, and a hopeful end

I haven't been posting very much lately. I don't know how to explain, exactly; I'm busy, it's true, and there's been an awful lot going on, but I also seem to be suffering from some sort of amateur's form of writer's block, and I have been for roughly the last month. This has happened before, but this feels like it's already lasted far longer than is normal for me and, in all honesty, it's kind of freaking me out. The stories are dissolving before my eyes, and I can't seem to draw the connections that I need to make in order to form them into coherent ideas. Even my thoughts feel muddy sometimes. And while I wouldn't exactly say that I'm depressed or repressed or even particularly unhappy, I miss the glow that the world has when I'm fully immersed in it.

This isn't to say that life isn't good, because it is. Good things are happening to me every day. That's part of the problem, because I know that I could be experiencing so much more if I weren't lacking the clarity of vision to see what I thought I was seeing before, to figure out how my interior life and the life outside of me are connected, to bridge the gap between mundanity and exaltation. It's frustrating, because I know it's there and that it's passing me by and I can't seem to do anything about it. I'm starting to recognize that I'm once again reverting to old patterns: not talking enough, not making sure I get what I need or even (gasp) just want, losing my grip on my sense of personhood and worthiness. It's not as bad as it has been in the past, but it's enough to set me back a few steps and remind me that figuring things out is an ongoing process, and one that I will probably be repeating and struggling against and dealing with for a long time. Recognizing the warning signs is an important part of stopping things before they go too far, and I'm comforting myself with the thought that at least I'm getting better at that part, at recognizing and thinking about and fixing things before I end up in a Bad Place with myself.

So I sigh, and I remember what I've learned in the last year. That when I stop valuing myself and treating myself accordingly, I am not happy. That when I'm not happy, I'm less able to fully connect to other people. That when I lose that ability to connect, crazy beautiful things don't happen as often, or at least I don't recognize them as such. And then I lose my words, and then I become a person I don't like very much, and then the spiral continues until, if I'm not vigilant, I end up back where I started. I don't want to be there anymore. I tell myself that everything is connected: I need to make myself happy in order to be happy with others and with my life. I still don't know why letting this happen is so difficult, but at least I can work on it.

And so: a step back.


Here is an almost-confession, almost because it's not a surprise to many of the people who might be reading this: for years now, I've gone back and forth between smoking cigarettes and not smoking them, but in the past few months I've mostly been losing the battle. I've never admitted that in print before. On one level, I absolutely hate smoking; I hate the smell, the taste, the self-hatred that comes from abuse of my body, the knowledge that I'm slowly killing myself every time I flick my lighter. But on another level, part of me loves to do something bad for once, to do something stupid and harmful and wrong. Plus there's that whole addiction thing, which I took lightly in the past but now is finally registering in my body as a need.

I quit smoking once before, for almost three years, because a girl that I loved very much asked me to give it up for myself and for her. When we broke up, I began smoking again with a vengeance (literally) and since then it's been harder and harder for me to distance myself for any length of time. Today, I said goodbye to her as we unloaded boxes of kitchen equipment from her truck, boxes that were going up to my apartment because she and her girlfriend are moving to San Francisco on Friday. I couldn't think of a fitting goodbye, and so after a brief hug and a hopeful promise to visit in the spring she was gone and I went back to my cats to think about change.

I went up to my apartment and unpacked some stuff, and then I sat down to look at this post again. It's all well and good to write about the changes I need to make, and it's entirely another to actually make them. After a few minutes, I packed up my bag and headed out again. I went to the corner store; I bought a pack of cigarettes. I began to walk towards the lake, slowly smoking, and when I got there I threw my butt into a trash can. I walked to the water, and I sat down on a rock and pulled out my planner. I made a small mark next to today. I decided that by tonight there would be no more than three of those marks, and that I would continue to make no more than three marks every day until, a week from now, there would be no more marks because there would be no more cigarettes.

I've tried to quit cold turkey many times in the last few months, and have almost always ended up buying another pack within a few days. Here is my new decision: this week is my goodbye to smoking. I'm no good at abrupt leavings, but if I want to love myself again I have to let go of this thing that is ultimately, for me, an expression of self-hatred or self-pity or self-abuse. I need to prove my strength to myself again by beating this fucking addiction. And because I need to do this, I need to write about it here and tell other people so that you can help keep me honest. That is perhaps a lame way out of this cul-de-sac, but it's what I have. Please ask me about it, make me talk about it, ask to see my planner, check up on me. Knowing you're out there will make a difference. I am, apparently, fully capable of lying to myself, but you all? Not so much.

As I walked back from the lake after making my decision, I didn't light a cigarette, even though I already wanted to. Just as I crossed under Lake Shore Drive, it began to rain. I thought to myself, "So, here is my story," even though I hate attributing some sort of personal attention from something as uncaring as the weather, and I walked slower, failing to remove the umbrella I had in my bag and instead letting the drops hit me. I walked all the way home that way, and then I changed out of my wet clothing and sat down to finish this and as I did the sun came out and shone through my windows and somebody texted me to tell me that there is a rainbow outside, and I decided to go with the metaphor. Stories are really in the way I see the world anyway, and if I need to tell myself that the rain and its stopping mean something in order to regain my clarity than so be it. I can only hope that this small vignette and the seeing of it is a stepping stone back to where I want to be.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

a revolution of the... heart

So I don't have time to write much myself, but it's time to spread the word a bit. Saturday is my friend Peter's birthday, and he has requested that people take part in a bit of bathroom-related revolution to celebrate. Trans people and public toilets have long been an uneasy combination; people tend to police their restroom spaces heavily, singling out gender offenders for not fitting into the binary restroom hierarchy, and the harassment that can follow is something that many of my friends deal with on a daily basis.
Anyway, here's a re-posting of what we have up on the Genderqueer Chicago blog. Please, if you feel safe, use the wrong restroom this Saturday. Bring a friend, be safe, but shake things up a bit. After all, it really is just a toilet.

"The Toilet Revolution is a city-wide theatre event intended to challenge gendered bathrooms and the policing of gender non-conforming people who get accosted when trying to pee. And it's this Saturday! All Day! Oh, oh my!

Accosted while trying to pee? Yep. Everyday, gender-alternative people are questioned, berated, mocked, glared at, and barred from public restrooms because someone's perception of their gender doesn't match up with the "skirt" and "suit" pictures on gendered bathrooms. Bathrooms should be safe for everyone, no matter their gender identity and presentation.

How do I get involved? Easy. Pick a gendered bathroom. Or a few on Saturday. Enter a bathroom in a public space that you feels challenges conceptions of gender.

Be Safe. Go with a buddy, and don't put yourself in danger. If you're cis male-bodied and male-identified, be sensitive to who is around you.

And repeat. Do this over and over again if you have time and feel safe.

Spread the word. Tell your friends. And tell them to tell their friends.

Write about it. We'll be posting written reactions/ thoughts/ feelings/ images/ and videos from your experience! If you want to contribute, send your responses to"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

the sum of my parts

I always appreciate it when good things come almost out of left field; the unexpected realization that you're having an awesome life moment right now is a great way to get your adrenaline going. My heart starts beating a little faster and I can't stop smiling, because I know that in this moment I'm really happy to be where I am, experiencing whatever it is that's happening. It's been kind of a low-key couple of weeks for me in terms of that particular kind of moment; I feel mostly happy most of the time, but the hills and valleys haven't been quite as high as they were a few months ago. I'm certainly not about to complain about general happiness, but I've been feeling due for a really great self-reflexive moment, the kind where I feel like I'm part of something profound unfolding even as I'm standing back and thinking "holy shit!".

I was at a party the other night for a musician friend of mine who had just returned from three months of summer music festivals when I had a moment. I just started subbing in for a concert with my old orchestra and I've been feeling a little out of place there, and it was just slightly on my mind when I walked into the party. That orchestra tends to feel extremely normative to me; generally not a lot of people dress or behave all that outrageously (at least as far as I know from orchestra gossip and observation), and, honestly, I always always always feel like just about the queerest person in the room, or at least the queerest female person. Which is fine (and I'm hopefully wildly underestimating the people that I work with), but it can also be somehow slightly irritating sometimes. When I showed up at my friend's place I was in a little bit of that kind of mindset, so even though I fully expected to have a good time and see some people who's company I enjoy I was also prepared to once again be the "queer expert" if sex or dating or a variety of other topics happened to come up.

When I got introduced around the room, I realized two of the people there were a queer couple who I'd heard about from a mutual friend and had consequently talked to individually on (interestingly enough) okcupid. I was excited to finally meet them both; it had sounded like we had a lot in common and I'd been kind of waiting to eventually run into one of them, as was bound to happen in the tiny universe of musicians in the city. Our conversations intersected at various points for a while, and eventually I started noticing how free and easy they were with their queerness, how totally open and happy and comfortable they were. I can't remember the last time--if ever--that I was in a group of musicians where anybody but me used the word "queer" (or at least used it before I did), and it made me inexplicably happy to see these two fairly major parts of my life, music and gayness, were both going to get a little play.

Eventually the three of us began talking more, and we moved onto the porch where we ended up discussing drag king conferences (he had been in a Portland group I'd nearly seen perform some sort of rock opera with when A and I were driving to Alaska, except we couldn't delay the trip another day to wait for the show), upcoming queer events they hadn't heard about, and finally the lack of readily available queer musician community. It felt really, really good to talk about somewhat personal stuff with these two relative strangers, and it felt even better to be open myself with both of my parts, the musician and the queer girl. I got a little worked up perhaps (I asked them if I could hug them, and I tried to convey how happy I was at meeting them but I probably just sounded overenthusiastic), but I think it made us all happy; when I had to say my goodbyes shortly after that, we hugged again and talked about having dinner and playing music sometime. I walked home smiling.

I feel like I'm not entirely communicating what I want to say, how it felt to meet other people who might have had experiences that were close to what I've been living for years. I spend so much time searching for connection, and so much of the time even with people I know and love that can feel slightly tenuous, like it's happening on certain levels but others are being left out of the mix or have to be explained because it's not a place we mutually inhabit. I don't even try to mix these particular two elements very often, because I so rarely meet people who understand both sides, who have spent their time learning to love music and living in the way that that career dictates while also nurturing and enjoying a whole life where there can be queer identity and gender play. It made me profoundly happy to stand on that porch and know that we could talk about either Debussy or drag kings; it felt like I was less alone than I had been before, which is ultimately the goal of connecting with others in the first place. Even if we never end up doing much together, this one evening will stay with me and remind me that I'm not the only one trying to balance these two mostly disparate parts, that there are so many others who can relate to what I'm thinking when I stare in resignation around the orchestra and feel so understatedly but distinctly different.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

like a southbound train

So it's been more than a week since I last posted, but lately I've been going through one of those blank spots where I'm not seeing the stories and I can't for the life of me think of anything important enough to write about. The aftermath of the Naked Girls article surprised me (not to brag, but more than 7,000 hits on the Chicago Now site, roughly a thousand on this blog, and repostings or links in several places including a blog that Wikipedia called "(arguably) the most influential English-language blog on the web that is devoted to contemporary poetry and poetics," which seems like quite a thing to claim to be), particularly since part of what I had written was about how vulnerable I feel when I write. Good times. But that has only been part of the excellent but crazy mess of the past few weeks: Meetings! Karaoke! More naked girls! YouTube videos of homoerotic mashups of Star Trek and Nine Inch Nails! (Watch it, it's relatively amazing.) Pie! And on and on. I've met new people and seen old friends, but the general trend seems to be that everybody in the world wants to do something before summer ends.

Which it is. It's not even the middle of September and, while it's not cold yet, it's not really warm anymore either. This entire summer has felt like either spring or fall; I could probably count the days on my fingers where I was truly hot, with the exception being when I was inside my occasionally furnace-like apartment. (The worst part of studio life? No air circulation.) I never even really broke in my sandals. And now the season is on the wane, with the equinox fast approaching as I feel an increasing unwillingness to leave the house without a jacket. I can't really complain because I detest the sticky sweaty humidity of Chicago summers, but I also have to admit that I'm not quite ready to admit yet that we're heading slowly but surely towards winter.

Instead, I'm focusing on fall. When it's chilly and I feel on edge there's nothing I want to do more than cuddle and fall is a great season for cuddling, not only with people but with clothing, food, a quilt on the bed, hot tea instead of cold water. Especially these last few weeks when I've been so busy--in the good way, but busy is busy regardless of the content--I've been comforting myself with thoughts of things like worn corduroy and warm soup. My extremely elderly bathrobe (I'm pretty sure it was a Christmas present in the sixth grade) is beckoning me from my closet. I'm beginning to think about squash, and how fall is probably the only time I'll be able to comfortably bake bread because my landlords (thankfully) crank up the heat all winter. The leaves are beginning to change outside in spots, and even though I'm pretty sure that isn't actually supposed to be happening in September I'm trying to appreciate the color instead of worrying about the temperature dropping.

Besides, the transitional seasons are when I feel the most change happen in my life, and I've been feeling just slightly complacent lately. I am definitely not complaining--who would complain about feeling mostly very happy most of the time?--but I'm not feeling the radical joy and poetry anywhere near as much as I was a few months ago. I'm patiently waiting for it to come back, and it does in flashes, but I have a good feeling about this fall. Bring on the personal epiphanies, the mental breakthroughs, the heartlift and the adrenaline that accompanies all of these things; I'm ready to start moving again.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

these are a few of my favorite things

Another review of Naked Girls Reading is up over at Anna's Sex and the Windy City blog! Check my review out here, and while you're at it look at some of her other posts. She's a funny lady. I'll be checking out the next installment of the series this Friday, which is going to be a game show-esque evening with audience members reading naked and the rest of us voting on their... performance. They've also been expanding into other cities so who knows, maybe some of you out there will be able to experience your very own Naked Girls soon. Here's hoping.